2016: 11 countries visited & 11 lessons learned

2016 was pretty shit for the world. For me, it’s been stressful, unpredictable, exhilarating, scary, and amazing. I visited and lived in 11 countries: Singapore, Malaysia, India, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Taiwan, Australia, and the US. Most of which I worked from, too.

January: Singapore & Mumbai, India

I started my digital nomad adventure at the end of 2015. I left on a one-way ticket to Singapore, and spent the first few months there figuring things out. I detailed this in The Digital Nomad Leap.

New year, new experiences. Trying out #pole for the first time! ūüíÉūüŹĹ

A post shared by Nicole Fu (@nicolejfu) on

Lesson #1: Push yourself out of your comfort zone and try new things. 

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4 lessons you can take from my failed startup

Today is the International Day For Failure. No better time to reflect on my first startup, and my foray into the startup world.

It was 2006/7 that I was living in Singapore, and saw the introduction and rise of “blogshops”. This involved older teenage girls/young adults either:

A) selling used clothing and accessories on platforms like LiveJournal, for more money to y’know, shop some more

B) figuring out that a lot of boutiques got their stock from Bangkok, and going to Bangkok themselves to buy stock to sell online at a lower price point

I did A), and thought B) was really smart. Passing the savings from not having a storefront and staff onto the customer. And Bangkok does have great fashion. B) was always on my mind, and when I lived in Tokyo in 2009/10 I thought of starting it there, but the language and other factors deterred me.

While finishing up my Bachelor’s in 2012, I had no idea what I wanted to do after… I was studying Mathematics and Statistics, and unlike my classmates, I wasn’t keen on going on to be an academic, an actuary, or to work in a bank. That’s when Jolietta was born. Armed with B) nagging at the back of my mind for 6 years now, experience working in the fashion industry, and the firm belief that there’s a market for a stylish and affordable fashion alternative, I went fuck it, let’s go.

June 18, 2012: Attended convocation

September 5, 2012: Flew to Bangkok alone, spoke to 50-100 suppliers everyday with the help of an English-Thai app.

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-Worked on the logo and branding with an graphic designer I went to elementary school with

-Enlisted the help of a website designer friend of a friend, to set up and customize an e-commerce site via BigCartel

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November 10, 2012: Launch day. Activated a street marketing team aka friends.

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Digital Nomad Essentials

Last week, I shared the entire contents of my “mobile home” on YouTube. I won’t list every item¬†and tell you to bring 10 t-shirts, 5 shorts, a toothbrush etc, but I’ll cover the essentials.Nicole Fu Digital Nomad Mobile Home and Mobile Office

Storage

Luggage: I love duffel trolley bags like this pink one pictured. They’re lighter than a hard case, and its handle makes it easy to grab to throw on busses and taxis, to pick up and cross uneven surfaces… You can stuff a lot in there too. My current one is from Little India in Singapore, and my previous one was a credit card freebie. Here’s one I found on Amazon.¬†The smaller your “mobile home” the better! It’s pain to drag around. Though I’m personally not a fan of backpacks as you have to a) dig through it, & b) I don‚Äôt want to be carrying so much weight on my back.

Backpack:¬†I started nomading with a Jansport, which quickly started to hurt my back. I went in search of a backpack with cushioned straps, & a water bottle slot. This PacSafe has those 2 things, and so much more. A padded back, slash proof front, locks, anti-theft RFID pocket, etc. It’s been serving me well & I highly recommend it.

I also have a small handbag which just nicely fits my iPad, shawl, wallet, and phone. I also have a little clutch that I use to dinner, partying, running errands, and even hiking!

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How to become a Digital Nomad in 3 steps

Nicole Fu Digital Nomad in Vang Vieng, Laos

2 months ago, I wrote about how¬†I¬†became a digital nomad. When people¬†I meet in real-life find out that I’m a digital nomad, a common response I get is: “Wow, that’s so cool. I wish I could do the same.” The thing is,¬†you can. Anyone can.

Recently, I got into a heated discussion with my mom and god brother re.¬†why I don’t want to pursue an opportunity with¬†one of the big 4 tech companies; an opportunity that presented itself to me. It’ll look¬†good on¬†your resume, they said. It’s good experience. But why would I want to go¬†to a corporate 9-5 when I have¬†this?, ¬†I said. Think about your career, they said. “What do you mean, so all the work I’m doing now is what, stagnating my career?”¬†This back and forth went on – I was preaching to the deaf.

Some have even asked me how are my finances, which I find patronizing and to be perpetuating the stigma attached to being a digital nomad. We are not 20-something backpackers, not in the least. We live in nice af condos with swimming pools, or even hotels. I haven‚Äôt cooked, washed dishes, changed my bed sheets,¬†or done any chores in months. Johnny FD makes 5 figures a month yet chooses to live simply and spend only ~$2,000 a month. We are not all freelancers –¬†some of the¬†nomads I’ve met in Chiang Mai include a partner at Nokia, the ex-head of marketing for Napster, and a Thought Catalog employee. While¬†Silicon Valley has their uniform of a startup t-shirt, jeans, and hoodie, digital nomads have our uniform of a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. How comfortable is this compared to a shirt and tie, or a pencil skirt and stilettos? How much enjoyment do we get out not having to iron or dry-clean said clothing?

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Unity in Diversity

Today is Racial Harmony Day in Singapore, though the local paper did not mention that (not surprised),¬†the Prime Minister did on Facebook.¬†It’s observed to commemorate the 1964 Race Riots, and to celebrate the diversity in Singapore. It’s also the one of 2 days a year where kids can show up to school in clothes other than their school uniform. Here’s a photo from when I was 15 or 16, on Racial Harmony Day. There’s:

  • Charline, an Indonesian-Chinese Singaporean in a Nonya Kebaya
  • Me, a Chinese Singaporean-Canadian in a Punjabi Salwar
  • Serra, a Malay Singaporean in a Baju Kurung
  • Eunice, a Chinese Singaporean in some attempt at cowboy clothing

All this to say: most of us were wearing traditional clothes belonging to another race.Nicole Fu and others during Racial Harmony Day at Assumption English School in 2004/5

This is one of the reasons why I loved growing up in Singapore. It’s a young country of immigrants (much like Canada and the US), with 4 main ethnic groups intertwined. Julia (in red), a close friend till today, has a Eurasian father and a Korean mother, yet she took Mandarin as her second language in school. My mother, adopted by Chinese parents, learnt Malay.

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Ode to Startupfest

Just a quick one as the 6th edition of International Startup Festival (Startupfest) kicks off in my beloved Montreal today. Startupfest is the summer event in Montreal. It’s a conference like no other; one where entrepreneurs and investors alike show up in t-shirts, shorts, and slippers. Bonus: it’s always in a funky location in beautiful, lively Old Montreal.

This post was inspired by Montreal entrepreneur LP Mauricie’s Ode to Startupfest. In it, he uses the annual Startupfest as a yardstick for his personal growth as an entrepreneur. I too continue to ask myself, “Where am I relative to where I was at last year’s festival?”.

TLDR

Year 3 (2013): I was a volunteer and attendee

Year 4 (2014): I championed the Montreal tent

Year 5 (2015): I championed the Data tent in partnership with SAP + Startupfest was a client and partner of Nexalogy (where I was Head of Marketing)

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The Digital Nomad Leap

I don’t know if it’s that I caught the travel bug at a young age, having had the opportunity to visit many places growing up, or it’s typical of my generation – restlessness, the itch. Either way, whether I fully formed it in my head or not, I think it’s always been the dream: location independence.

It was 2014/2015 that I started saying to friends that it’s time to move on. I had been in Montreal for 4-5 years then, and escaping every opportunity I could. Before that I was in Tokyo for a year, and before that Halifax for a year.

I had the itch.

Then it happened. The startup I was working for faced a cash crunch, and had to immediately let a few people go. Myself included. “We can hire you back in 2-3 months”, they said. That was my cue. I already had a one-way ticket to Singapore for my annual trip there; I only had enough miles to claim a one-way and hadn’t bought the return. Within a month, I sold everything I owned, wrapped up my life in Montreal, said my goodbyes, and left.

I had a rough plan. I’d join a company remotely. One that I love. Whose (SaaS) product I loved. Who’s in “growth mode”/just raised a Series A. (I’ve seen too many seed startups run out of money) Can’t be that difficult, right?

As it turns out, finding a¬†company with¬†all 3 ticks was quite the unicorn hunt. In the interim, I hung out in Singapore, rent-free at my Grandma’s, and did trips from there: Malaysia, Philippines, Korea, Japan. Then the futile job search + living with my Grandma (after having been on my own since I was 18) started getting to me. That and being in a city I disliked, one that stresses me out… So fuck it: I left for Chiang Mai.

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